Five is a very important number when discussing Rajon Rondo’s connection to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (and Ray Allen). It speaks to the uninspired, downtrodden nature of the Boston Celtics, and also to their triumphant, glorious achievements.
Five was the position that Boston finished in the Atlantic Division back in the 2006-07 season.
Paul Pierce played excellently that year with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. But he played sparingly. Just 47 games of action for Pierce as he battled a stress fracture in his foot. Al Jefferson was the big man proving that he was a future All-Star, but elsewhere, the team was laden with also-rans and young unproven players.
Among the bevy of young guns was Rajon Rondo.
But add all these factors up and you get 24 wins and that fifth place finish, last in the Atlantic Division.
In the summer of 2007, Boston missed on the top two picks in the draft, but hit on two big trades, netting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in exchange for Jefferson and various flotsam.
Five was the number of Atlantic Division titles captured by the Celtics in this great era.
In 2007-08, they exploded for 66 wins and the title. The Big Three of Pierce, Garnett and Allen were otherworldly and Rondo was asked to merely not mess things up. Garnett, Pierce and Allen along with veterans like P.J. Brown, Sam Cassell, James Posey and Eddie House displayed such an intense desire to win that title in 2008.
Seeing that hungry desperation every night couldn’t help but rub off on Rondo.
But he was still thought of as an accessory, an unknown, maybe even dangerous, variable. The veterans Cassell and Eddie House were brought in to shore up the point position.
In the Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Rondo played just 27 minutes a game (he had played 33 per game in the postseason up to that point) as the Celtics gave more playing time to their veterans. It's curious to note that Boston was 3-0 when Rondo played 30-plus minutes in that series and 1-2 when he didn't.
In the closeout blowout of the Lakers, Rondo registered 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals. Perhaps it was this performance that finally sealed Boston's fate that Rondo was the point guard of their present and future.
The very next season (2008-09), it became quite clear that Boston’s little general was no longer an accessory but a necessity, especially after Garnett went down to injury that spring.
That postseason (2008-09), Rondo averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. These are numbers unheard of in the postseason, unless you’re Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jason Kidd or Magic Johnson. But without Garnett, the Celtics couldn’t triumph, losing in seven games to the Orlando Magic in the second round.
Rondo’s development, though, had been staggering.
He had always been a bit petulant, a bit hard-nosed, but now he was commanding the floor. His emergence led to the pronouncement of a Big Four in Boston and deservedly so. The veterans had helped create the Rondo we know and now they began to benefit from their creation.
Rondo’s pinpoint passes, piercing drives and swift hands created numerous easy baskets for his aging teammates.
In 2010, they were (perhaps) a Kendrick Perkins knee injury away from a second title. Last season, they surprisingly took the Miami Heat to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals. When first acquiring the Big Three, common appraisal was that by this time, Garnett, Pierce and Allen would either be retired or mothballed on the end of the bench.
Allen is now in Miami and having his career prolonged by another Big Three. In Boston, Garnett and Pierce are continuing their own longevity thanks to Rondo. Now more than ever, the guard has been asked to step up and assume more offensive and defensive burden. More importantly, Rondo has to assume more of the leadership burden.
All that’s left of the title core is Rondo, Pierce and Garnett: a new, but still familiar, Big Three in Boston.
Great players sometimes make a promising player great. Perhaps Garnett, Pierce and Allen did that to Rondo.
Great players certainly make other great players' lives easier. Garnett, Pierce, Allen and Rondo certainly did that for one another.
Now let’s see how long this great player in Rondo can prolong and salvage the careers of the great Garnett and Pierce.
Another five years may seem a bit too long, but then again, we thought the same thing back in 2007…